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UN chief calls for lifting US travel ban

Thursday February 2, 2017

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, pictured on January 30, 2017, appealed for the US to reverse the suspension of refugee resettlement (AFP Photo/ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER)
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, pictured on January 30, 2017, appealed for the US to reverse the suspension of refugee resettlement (AFP Photo/ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for lifting a US ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, saying the measures would not prevent terrorists from entering the United States.

"I think that these measures should be removed sooner rather than later," Guterres told reporters.

"Those measures indeed violate our basic principles and I think that they are not effective if the objective is to, really, avoid terrorists to enter the United States," he said.

The appeal to end the travel ban came amid a mounting international outcry over the 90-day US entry restrictions on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday enacting the immediate ban and also suspending the arrival of all refugees for a minimum of 120 days while Syrian refugees were barred indefinitely.

Addressing the US suspension of refugee resettlement and the ban on Syrians, Guterres again appealed to the US administration to reverse course.

"Resettlement is the must from the point of view of refugee protection," said Guterres, who served as UN refugee chief for 10 years before his election as secretary-general.

"I strongly hope that the US will be able to re-establish its very solid refugee protection in resettlement and I hope that the Syrians will not be excluded in that process."

Trump's decision triggered protests and chaos at airports while UN human rights chief Zeid bin Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein declared it illegal and "mean-spirited."

Guterres, who took over from South Korea's Ban Ki-moon on January 1, argued that banning citizens from Muslim countries would not prevent terrorist organizations from mounting an attack on the United States.

"We are dealing with very sophisticated terrorist organizations," he said.

"If a global terrorist organization will try to attack any country like the United States, they will probably not come with people with passports from those countries that are hotspots of conflicts today."

"They might come with the passports from the most -- I would say -- developed and credible countries in the world or they might use people who are already in the country."

- US hostility -

Guterres had been criticized by human rights groups for failing to quickly condemn the travel ban and make a pressing appeal to Trump to scrap it.

His first formal statement on the issue came on Tuesday, four days after the ban was enacted.

The UN chief met with new US ambassador Nikki Haley on Friday for what he described as a "very constructive" conversation about the relationship between the new administration and the United Nations.

Asked about the US threat of a major funding cut, Guterres declined to comment, saying he did not want to speculate on what possible decision lay in store.

The United States is by far the UN's biggest financial contributor, providing 22 percent of its operating budget and funding 28 percent of peacekeeping missions, which currently cost $7.8 billion annually.

"It's no surprise that the UN has to treat the refugee ban very delicately," said Martin Edwards, director of Seton Hall University's Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies.

"The UN faces hostility from both the legislature as well as the White House," he said.

Guterres said he was hoping to visit Washington to meet with Trump, but that no date had been set for the talks.


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